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If Trump Refuses To Play By The Book, There's Little Anyone Can Do And That's The Tragedy Of This Election

That the legitimacy of the election is even a question, is proof how adroitly Trump has stage-managed it.

20/10/2016 12:11 PM IST | Updated 20/10/2016 1:18 PM IST
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POOL New / Reuters
Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump listens to Democratic U.S. presidential nominee Hillary Clinton during their third and final 2016 presidential campaign debate at UNLV in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S., October 19, 2016.

The last frame of the last debate encapsulated this US presidential election perfectly. There was the sulking visage of Donald Trump, his face sour and pouting. And there was Hillary Clinton with her just-a-shade-too-bright on-camera smile.

Those are the options America has before it.

Clinton comes across as the overly packaged candidate, every response carefully calibrated as if by focus groups. Trump started out as the pox-on-both-your-parties wrecking ball but after three debates now looks like a bully who is whining every time he does not get to be a bully. First the microphone was faulty, the moderator too nitpicking and now the entire system is rigged.

The three debates have become a commentary of their own on this campaign and this peculiar juncture of American politics.

But Clinton's greatest problem is she is the quintessential summation of politics as usual other than the fact that she would break through the glass ceiling. Trump hammers that point home but is such a bull in a china shop he makes America fear that he would break everything else around him as well.

But if Trump starts trailing too much in opinion polls after three debates, Clinton should worry – his voters are committed, hers less so. Many are driven by Trump-phobia rather than Clinton-mania and in that sense the appearance of a close election is actually to her advantage.

The three debates have become a commentary of their own on this campaign and this peculiar juncture of American politics.

In the first debate they shook hands and Trump patted Clinton on the back as if they were all good sports after all. In the second debate they came to an awkward standstill, almost shaking hands, but giving up at the last minute. By the third debate there was no pretence of Marquis of Queensberry type debating rules. They took to their respective podiums without the basic courtesy.

Mike Blake / Reuters
Democratic U.S. presidential nominee Hillary Clinton smiles at a member of the audience as she walks off the debate stage as Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump remains at his podium after the conclusion of their third and final 2016 presidential campaign debate at UNLV in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S., October 19, 2016.

There was little room for those niceties with Trump declaring his opponent should be in jail and not allowed to run for President.

But the three debates also showed us three versions of Trump. It was a Taming of the Trump of sorts. In the first debate he was the hectoring bully, interrupting Clinton, talking over her, sniffing, glowering, fidgeting, almost itching to get off from behind his podium and invade her space. Clinton in red was like a red rag to a bull and Trump responded to every jab from her.

Obviously coached on gravitas for the second debate he came determined to be more statesmanlike the next time around. He was more measured. He did not sniffle. He did not look like he was itching to prowl around on stage.

In the third debate Trump appeared as if he had been told to not move a facial muscle while Clinton was speaking in case the Inner Trump was revealed for all the world to see. It turned him into a strange waxwork figure who would suddenly spring into animated life and then return to the glowering mummy pose as soon as he stopped speaking. But this was what passes for the kinder gentler Trump insisting he would talk to Japan and NATO nicely, that he had a great meeting with the President of Mexico. But this newer Trump was so tightly in control he barely remembered to crack a smile.

POOL New / Reuters
Democratic U.S. presidential nominee Hillary Clinton listens as Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump (not pictured) speaks during their third and final 2016 presidential campaign debate at UNLV in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S., October 19, 2016.

Clinton on the other hand seems to have made it her mission to appear as cool as a cucumber, shrugging off whatever s**t Trump threw at her. Her repartees were rarely zingers. Her job was simply to convince America that there was only one real adult in the room.

But here's the real tragedy for the country that thinks it is electing the next leader of the free world.

The biggest talking point of its third and final debate, the headline moment as it were, was Trump refusing to say he would be a "good sport" and accept the final outcome like a good sport. By questioning the democratic process itself he shocked American pundits who should by now be not shocked by anything Trump says at all.

But it's a sad commentary on this political campaign that it should have come to this at all, where the big conflict is not on the economy, or national debt, or Syria or the Supreme Court but the democratic process itself. Donald Trump gets to tell a national audience that if he loses he won't necessarily accept the final verdict. He preferred to leave the moderator in suspense as if it was a television show cliff-hanger. Except it's the presidency of the United States.

That the legitimacy of the election is even a question, weeks before election day, is proof how adroitly Trump has stage-managed this election into being all about him. His utterances, no matter how preposterous get analyzed and debated with so much attention.

That the legitimacy of the election is even a question, weeks before election day, is proof how adroitly Trump has stage-managed this election into being all about him. His utterances, no matter how preposterous get analyzed and debated with so much attention. He is right in a way. The system is not equipped to deal with the likes of him because he can say whatever he likes when he does not get his way. There are no hanging chads yet in this election but Trump is already hanging its fate in the balance.

Rick Wilking / Reuters
Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump departs the stage with his family after the conclusion of the third and final debate with Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton at UNLV in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S., October 19, 2016.

These three debates have shown that a system that is based on a sort of minimum adherence to basic rules and courtesies cannot handle someone who just refuses to play by them but will not get out of the sandbox either. He will talk over his opponent, interrupt constantly (but peevishly demand his own time when she interrupts him), complain to the moderators about their moderation (why aren't you asking her about this or that).

The American system for all its faults is predicated on a sort of gentleman's agreement but if Trump refuses to be a gentleman there's little anyone can do.

And the system which is set up to treat both parties with equal fairness has no way of telling him to play by the rules. That's why he can get away with not releasing his tax returns. It's not mandated by law, it's just customary but Trump has no use for custom that's not to his advantage.

The American system for all its faults is predicated on a sort of gentleman's agreement but if Trump refuses to be a gentleman there's little anyone can do.

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